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If you can’t write your book, name it
Let’s be honest: it’s exceedingly hard to write anything right now. Incomes are combusting, residencies are closing, conferences are going virtual, bookstore doors are closed. There will be good days, obviously, but there are going to be a lot of days where our creative writing feels pointless, daunting, or both. That’s why I’m finding solace in the “busywork” of writing: the research, the pitch letters and query letters, the artist statements, the orbit of written material that supports the written thing, itself. One of the most important of these is the your book’s title. Book titles have an intrinsic power to them, they have magic and potential. In today’s newsletter, I wanted to share my tips and tricks for titling your book.

What should this stock image of a lilac book be called?

#1 Title as setting: where does your book take place?

If your book uses setting as a character, lean on that setting for a title. Consider the different ways that these book titles communicate where their narratives take place:

Scorpionfish
California
Where the Crawdads Sing
Death on The Nile
Brokeback Mountain
L.A. Confidential
How Much of These Hills Is Gold
Manhattan Beach
The Motorcycle Diaries
A River Runs Through It
Persepolis

#2 Title as paradox: how a title teases plot

Winning titles tell you something about a book before you even open it. In the best examples above, the title reveals both something about the setting in which the book takes place and what’s going to happen to the characters while there (Brokeback Mountain for example, suggests that something will break, while Scorpionfish suggests freedom and pain). There’s another way to name a book though, and it involves teasing out conflict:

The Vacationers (I bet everything isn’t going swimmingly if we’re reading about people who are supposed to be on a vacation.)
The Immortalists (But people aren’t immortal?)
Love in the Time of Cholera (In sickness and in health, indeed.)
All the Light We Cannot See (Why can’t we see the light? Ah, because one of the main characters is blind…)
Recollections of My Non-Existence (But how can a person not exist? Read the memoir and you’ll find out.)
My Autobiography of Carson McCullers (Wait, but how can it be an autobiography if it’s written by someone who isn’t Carson McCullers…see what Jenn Shapland did there? Genius!)
Love Songs for Married People (Enough said.)
Call Me by Your Name (Ah….)

#3 Title as poetry: when the beauty pulls you in

Another option is to just come up with a title so beautiful, people will buy it just so they can stare at it all day:

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing
An American Marriage
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Tender is the Night
Another Brooklyn
The Fault in Our Stars
Being & Nothingness
If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler
The Remains of the Day
Severance

Want more writing and marketing advice? I know just where you can find it. Order BEFORE AND AFTER from bookshop.org to support your local Indies!

Other tips and tricks for finding your book’s name

Inspiration is all around (online!)

Use Google maps and look at the names of towns, rivers, creeks, and marshlands in the region you are writing about.

Look up the flora and fauna in the area where most of your book takes place. Search for the names of insects, trees or animals that have significance, or metaphorical power.

Juxtapose two opposing words, as was done in Scorpionfish by Natalie Bakopoulos.

Look to phrasal examples that might work for your book, especially if it’s funny. Wow, No Thank You (just out from Samantha Irby!) and What Color is Your Parachute are examples of phrasal titling.

Want me to name your book for you? Write me at thequerydoula@gmail.com or visit courtneymaum.com

Positive reviews of author’s books on Amazon and Goodreads actually help independent bookstores because they bring books (especially those published by independent presses!) up in the rankings, which signals booksellers to keep them stocked on shelves.Thank you for the time and effort it takes to leave a nice review!